New chief justice of Ill. Supreme Court fully backs cameras in court

CHICAGO – The new chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court – sworn in Monday in a courthouse where she began her judicial career 40 years ago – says she fully backs her predecessor’s push to open trials to news photographers and electronic media.

Rita Garman, 69, was sworn in by the chief justice she’s replacing, Thomas Kilbride, whose highest profile policy was implementing a pilot program permitting cameras in select state courtrooms – with the aim of possibility one day ending in-court camera bans for good.

In prepared remarks after being sworn in at Vermilion County Courthouse in Danville – her hometown in eastern Illinois – Garman didn’t mention the camera program. But asked in a telephone interview with The Associated Press hours later if she supports it, Garman didn’t hesitate.

“I certainly do – wholeheartedly,” she said.

While the program is described as being in a test phase, Garman added she didn’t see Illinois ever returning to a blanket prohibition on courtroom cameras.

Kilbride, who resumes his associate justice post, launched the camera-in-court initiative nearly two years ago. Thirty-five out of 102 Illinois counties are currently participating in the program, with several having already broadcast trials live.

“It is working smoothly,” said Garman. “I anticipate it will gain speed as we move forward.”

The state’s most populous county, Cook, isn’t fully participating yet, though it has laid groundwork for taking part. Garman said she hoped Cook and many more counties could be incorporated into the program soon.

The state has allowed cameras to be present during Supreme Court and appellate court hearings since 1983. But at the time, the ban at state-court trials was continued out of concern that cameras would be disruptive and undermine a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

In her prepared remarks, Garman did say she supports “the increased use of technology” to make “courts more efficient and to ensure transparency.” And she said more must be done to guarantee cases don’t become clogged up in the system, delaying justice.

Garman becomes second woman to hold the post of chief justice. She’s one of three women currently on the seven-member panel.

“This is probably one of the most gratifying and uplifting moments of my life,” she said.

Just before the swearing in, Justice Mary Jane Theis alluded to Garman being the second-longest member of the judiciary out of more than 950 judges in Illinois. She got her start as an associate judge at the Danville courthouse.

“No one is more prepared in our state to be chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court than Rita Garman,” Theis said.

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